There were masters of Kung-Fu and then there was Bruce Lee. There were guitarists and then there was Jimi Hendrix. No one could play the guitar like Jimi, no one did, no one does now and it is debatable that anyone ever will. In much the same light there were American comics and then there was Maus.
Who was it I was talking to one day that gulped like they were swallowing Ghandi’s flip-flop, eyes bulging like the wolf in a Tex Avery cartoon and fingers spread out like a spider going for the fly on his web when they gasped “What?! You haven’t read Maus?!” I cannot remember but it was at a comic con, which made me feel inadequate, it made me feel I was no worthy of gracing this hall. I made it my mission after that to insure I had read Art Spiegelman’s trump card and when I did I was glad, if a little sad.
If you do not understand what the fuss is or altogether confused by not ever hearing of it then I could do the same flip-flop swallow, wolf bulging eye and spider finger spread as the person I mentioned before did to me, “What?!” Please, please make the effort. So for all of you not in the know Maus is a comic book, a graphic novel (to use a term I don’t really like and my reasons should perhaps be noted for another blog entry) and like many comic books the characters are anthropomorphised animals. This idea worked for many cartoonists from Robert Crumb to Uncle Walt but no one used the idea to such effect as in Maus. You see, Art tells a story divided into two plotlines, his own life and goings on while he researches the topic for the second plotline, his father’s life as a Jewish victim of the holocaust. A very serious and sober concept for a book in which the sorrow of the characters is slightly twisted by the fact that, as in any cat and mouse game the victims, the Jewish are portrayed as mice and the Germans portrayed as cats. This adds a whole metaphorical and abstract angle to the read, which would be an emotional jerker even without this bizarre feature.
Other animals come into play such as the Polish who are portrayed as pigs, however it is not the obvious stereotyping that sparks the emotions, it the stories that his father tells and the depth of detail in the events. It is downright saddening as you would expect from any portrayal of the holocaust but when you take that second look, at the cat and the mouse you begin to regain that haunting notion that this is only a comic book, why am I getting so upset over a comic?! That is its niche, that is its vocation and that it was divides it from both every other comic book and also, in the same light, every other war memoir.
I will say no more and leave it up to you; if you could metamorphose the diary of Anne Frank with Tom and Jerry would you really want to? Could you take yourself out of the seat of emotional impressions to accept that you are only watching a cartoon cat fighting a cartoon mouse when the story was really true and ended with a horrific conclusion? This is where the book separates from anything else, it is so out there on a limb and quite simply, it should be read by everyone, lovers of comics or not.